Baidu shares tumble most since May on report Google to launch censored search app in China

Baidu’s 7.7 per cent slump in New York trading is the steepest since the announcement in May that chief operating officer Lu Qi was stepping down

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 02 August, 2018, 8:53am
UPDATED : Friday, 03 August, 2018, 11:48am

Baidu Inc., which operates China’s dominant search engine, slumped the most in more than two months in Nasdaq trading on the prospect that Google may be seeking to re-enter the world’s biggest internet market with a censored product that meets China’s requirements.

Beijing-based Baidu tumbled 7.7 per cent to US$228.07 as of the close of trading on Wednesday. That is the steepest drop since May 18, when the company announced chief operating officer Lu Qi has stepped down from management. Lu, a former Microsoft executive, was one of the key hires by Baidu to spearhead its push into artificial intelligence.

Baidu COO Lu Qi steps down in latest reshuffle at ‘China’s Google’

Google plans to launch a censored version of its search engine in China, marking a major shift in strategy for the US internet giant nearly a decade after it exited the world’s second largest economy over Beijing’s strict censorship rules, according to a report by The Intercept.

The final version of Google’s modified search app, which will blacklist sites on human rights, democracy, religion and other issues deemed sensitive by the Chinese government, has already been shown to authorities and is now pending approval, according to the online news publication, which cited people familiar with the matter and internal Google documents.

A Google spokeswoman said on Wednesday that the company “does not comment on speculation about future plans”.

Google’s re-entry into China will see it compete with Baidu, which currently has almost 70 per cent of the domestic search market, according to data by StatCounter Global Stats.

At stake is the world’s biggest online community of 772 million internet users, with almost half of the population still not connected to the internet, according to the China Internet Report co-authored by the South China Morning Post, its tech news site Abacus and the San Francisco-based venture capital firm 500 start-ups.

Although China’s internet penetration is just over 50 per cent, its sheer scale means that there are three times the number of smartphone users and 11 times the number of mobile payment users in China than in the US, according to the report.

Baidu follows Tencent’s lead in building ‘super app’ ecosystem

The mainland Chinese market, however, has been off-limits to the operations of Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, which are behind the Great Firewall. Google’s search engine and other services are in the same predicament.

Google exited the Chinese mainland in 2010 after clashing with Beijing over the censorship of search results and a cyberattack on users of its Gmail email service. China subsequently blocked Google’s services on the mainland.

Baidu has grown to become the dominant search engine in China in the ensuing years. Helmed by billionaire founder Robin Li Yanhong, the company has pushed into artificial intelligence, notably in autonomous cars where it is striving to build an open-platform for self-driving car technology.

The company is also taking a leaf out of Tencent Holdings by introducing mini-programs, or applications that can run instantly on the main app’s interface, as part of a strategy to build a “super-app” ecosystem.